Subject: IPS: Int'l Women's Day: UN Wants More Women Peace Builders

Tuesday, March 9, 2004


March 8, 2004 4:41pm

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar. 5 (IPS/GIN) -- As the world prepares to mark International Women's Day, the United Nations is warning that women continue to play little or no role in post-conflict peace building -- be that in Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Their absence -- and the exclusion from discussions of their concerns and needs -- can spell the long-term failure of peace agreements, according to the world body and other experts.

"A review of peace agreements indicates that issues related to gender equality and positions of women within the post-conflict society are typically excluded from peace agreements," says U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In a 20-page study to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women [ ] , Annan says that while attention to gender equality is the responsibility of all sides involved, the absence of women from peace tables results in insufficient attention to and reflection of their concerns in eventual agreements.

"Furthermore, a peace process that fails to include women in agenda-setting, substantive talks and implementation raises questions about the democratic legitimacy of the process and lacks the inclusiveness to generate any sense of ownership among women," he adds.

"This can undermine the prospects for the durability of the agreement and sustainable peace," Annan warns.

The commission, which is holding a two-week session through Mar. 12, is discussing several gender-related issues, including "women's equal participation" in conflict prevention and post-conflict peace building.

The United Nations will commemorate its annual International Women's Day Mar. 8. One of the keynote speakers will be Queen Noor of Jordan.

In the study, Annan says the number of women participating in formal peace processes remains "very small". "Women are conspicuously absent from internationally sponsored peace processes, where negotiating teams are dominated by leaders of warring factions", adds the report.

The secretary-general also suggests that one reason why women are absent from the peace process is that they are not military leaders or combatants in war.

That is no justification for exclusion, Annan says, adding that gender equality is an important social goal in itself and a crucial factor for achieving sustainable peace.

"No Women, No Peace" is the slogan used by Cora Weiss, president of The Hague Appeal for Peace, an international coalition of activists.

"For an agreement to stick, women who are the glue that hold societies together must participate at the negotiating table so that they can also participate in the interpretation and implementation (of peace agreements)," Weiss told IPS.

A member also of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, Weiss said the peace agreement that has been most significantly influenced by the participation of women at the negotiating table is the Irish Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

In that peace process, "the two women (involved) kept returning the negotiators to human rights issues and made substantive contributions to the agreement", Weiss said.

The Israeli civil society team for the recent Geneva Accords on Palestine included three women, she added.

Weiss pointed out that token participation of women is not an answer. "We believe that 'One Woman does not Women Make' -- a phrase I use to demonstrate that we need a critical mass of women to make a difference".

In a report released Thursday, a coalition of U.S. women's groups said that despite pledges to include women in rebuilding Iraq, they have been absent from decision-making bodies controlled by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad.

"The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council appointed by the United States has only three women members. Only one woman is in the Iraqi cabinet, and there are no women among the 18 provincial governors," said the study, 'Global Women's Scorecard on the Bush Administration'.

The coalition, which includes the Feminist Majority, Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and the Center for Health and Gender Equity, also complained that an all-male committee drafted the interim Iraqi constitution finalized last week but which still remains to be adopted.

"It took Iraqi women demonstrating in the streets to win language in the interim constitution that sets a 25-percent goal for women's representation in the future elected assembly -- a major victory," the study said.

In Afghanistan, the coalition said, security concerns have hampered women's voter registration -- which now stands at two percent -- for a proposed June national election.

But the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), which has played a major role in advocating a role for women in post-war peace building, sees a significant change in their participation.

"Women are making their voices heard in Iraq and Afghanistan," says UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer.

"At the recent Constitutional Loya Jirga, Afghan women succeeded in inserting a provision in the new constitution that safeguards and holds equal the rights of both men and women before the law. And this was not included in the earlier draft constitution," Heyzer told IPS.

In Iraq, she said, more than 80 women's organizations have been formed to advocate for greater participation by women in the political process.

"Women are mobilizing through conferences, petitions, awareness campaigns to insist that they are included in all decision-making. It is important to note that these activities are not being carried out without serious risk -- security remains a major obstacle for women in these countries," she added.

Heyzer said there are several guiding principles for gender equality and women's participation in peace processes, including the landmark U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

"What remains to be done is their vigorous implementation. Whenever the United Nations is involved in peace processes, it must be accountable to women," she added.

UNIFEM Programme Coordinator Milena Pires cites East Timor as a post-war success story for women. "Without the use of quotas, women made up 27 percent of those elected to the Constituent Assembly (23 out of 88 members), which drafted the constitution that includes provisions recognizing full equality of men and women before the law".

"This was a significant achievement for the women of Timor-Leste," said Pires, who is also a member of the Timor-Leste Women's Network.

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